Thursday, September 22, 2011

The One With the Garter

Within the confines of Windsor Castle is the beautiful St. George’s Chapel, one of the finest examples of the Perpendicular style in the country. Pictures of the insides were not allowed, so those have been scanned from the guidebook.

A church has existed within Windsor for centuries. Henry III dedicated one to Edward the Confessor in the 13th century and part of a wall and a doorway still exist from that early structure.  St George represents courage and fidelity along with Christian chivalry and gentleness. He supplanted Edward the Confessor as the patron saint of England following his supposed appearance over the battlefield of Agincourt in 1415.

The current structure was begun in 1475 by Edward IV as the Chapel of the Order of the Garter, a medieval order of chivalry founded in 1348 by Edward III. Perhaps inspired by King Arthur and his Knights of the Round Table, the order was to consist of a distinguished band of soldiers who would reflect the ideal of Christian chivalry.

The earliest Order consisted of the Sovereign, The Prince of Wales and 24 members drawn from the fighting nobility. Since then, two other categories of members have been admitted: Sovereigns of other countries and members of the Royal Family other than the monarch and Prince of Wales.  The above picture is from the cover of the guidebook and shows the quire.

When the nave was completed in 1506, it was covered the heraldic arms of Knights of the Garter from the late 15th and early 16th centuries.

In the main body of the Quire is one of the finest collections of heraldic art in the world. Above the stall of each knight is a banner, some of which have been passed down through many generations. Below each banner is a crest on top of a helm. A half drawn sword below the helm indicates the readiness of each member to defend his Sovereign and religion.

At the back of each stall is a metal plate that remains after the members death (unlike the banner, crest and helm). Since 1348 there have been approximately 1,000 Knights of the Garter and there are currently over 700 stall plates with the rest being lost or removed.  The ones in the above picture date from the medieval period.

Stall plate of the Duke of Norfolk who was executed for treason in 1572

Stall plate of Charles, Prince of Wales

Edward IV and his queen, Elizabeth Woodville are buried in the chapel but the building was not completed for 53 years during the reign of Henry VIII.  Henry VIII is also buried here, along with his third wife, Jane Seymour, under a simple marble slab.

One of the chapels most magnificent features is the large stained glass wall (I think it’s too big to be considered a window!) which measures 36 by 29 feet. Of the 75 main windows, 65 date from before 1509.

This 13th century doorway is sometimes used by the Queen and other members of the Royal Family.

The exterior of the church is covered with animals, statutes and emblems and Chip spent quite a bit of time taking pictures of them. Here are a few:

seriously, check out the “heads” in the background (click to enlarge picture)

While he was taking all of those pictures he noticed a crowd of people gathered off to the side of the Chapel. Walking back and forth with military precision, this young guard attracted quite a bit of attention and several pre-teen girls tried to distract him. He was having none of it though and performed his duty as if they weren’t even there. We watched him for a while and didn’t see him even crack a smile. Impressive.


*information on Chapel from the guidebook

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